Issue 92


Old School:

Jeff Dorgay revisits the KEF C60s


Kanto YU6 Powered Speakers
By Jerold O’Brien

Journeyman Audiophile:

Totem’s Sky Towers
By Rob Johnson

Mine: It Should Be Yours

Peanuts Watch

Plaid Flannel Jammies

Blue Wine

Segway’s Go Kart

and more….


Playlists:  We share our readers choices from around the world

Can’t Get it Out of my Head
By Emily Duff

Future Tense

ARC REF 160 Monos

Cardas Nautilus Power Strip

Dynaco Stereo 70 (the new one!!)

and more…

This Month’s Gear: Small Speakers!

Radio D1.1

Paradigm Persona B

hORN Atmosphere

Graham LS3/5a

REL T5i Carbon LTD

and more…

Paradigm’s Newest Atom…

I often get criticized for only being interested in the mega gear, but nothing could be more wrong. As much fun as the big bucks stuff is, no one starts there, and for me, hifi is a journey. One of the most exciting parts of the journey is the beginning – what got you excited about all of this wacky stuff in the first place.

Though my journey started all the way back with a pair of AR-7s, my journey with Paradigm started back in the early 90s; I needed a pair of great compact speakers for my darkroom. As my photography career took off, so did the amount of time spent in the darkroom, meaning a better sound system was a must.

Enter the original Paradigm Atom

A quick trip to my local hifi shop led me to the little white Atoms you see here. $198 for the pair and I was rocking. Hooked up to a Nelson Pass powered Nakamichi receiver and matching cassette deck, marathon burning and dodging sessions were a breeze. I ended up selling those little white speakers to the guy that bought all of my darkroom gear about ten years later when digital imaging took hold. Paradigm has come a long way since then. But a quick trip to EBay had a pair of original Atoms in the studio – this time for $39 and free shipping. The ad said, “non working for parts,” so the original thought was photos only, but when I plugged them in they worked just fine. And sounding good as ever. But a side by side comparison to the new ones shows off how much the design staff at Paradigm has learned over the years.

Their new Monitor SE Atom is only $298 a pair! That’s crazy. But that’s what a major manufacturer that designs and builds their own drivers can do. Another speaker company that does not enjoy the economies of scale that Paradigm does would have to charge 3-4 times this much for a speaker that probably wouldn’t be as rewarding to listen to.

Start your journey here

If I had a dollar for every time someone asked me “What’s a great pair of speakers for a couple hundred bucks?” I’d probably have about a thousand dollars. More than enough to buy a PS Audio Sprout and a pair of new Atoms.

Great as the Atoms sounded when hooked up to high end hardware, using them with a wide range of vintage receivers, the PS Audio Sprout and that $298 Pioneer integrated we reviewed in issue 91’s 995 column is still very satisfying. A pair of Atoms is the perfect place to start your audio journey. As with the originals, the new Atom is very “tube friendly,” so if you’re considering building a tube amp, or using something vintage, they are a perfect match. We paired them up with new and old Dynaco Stereo 70 amplifiers with stunning results.

Listening to the first movement of David Chesky’s  New York Variations, brings forth an immersive soundstage, with major image width. Ditto for Jean-Michel Jarre’s latest release, Equinoxe Infinity – music extends well beyond the speaker boundaries. What you don’t get for this price is super extended, deep bass and an incredibly deep soundstage. But again, $298 a pair? You don’t get super extended, deep bass in the $25,000 Raidho D1.1s we just reviewed either. And much as I love the Raidho’s, there isn’t a $24,701 delta between these speakers.

One aspect of these speakers that has not been overlooked is their basic linearity. They play incredibly loud for a small speaker, yet at low level, they hold the stereo image together, remaining highly involving. Again, something that a number of high price/high pedigree speakers can not accomplish.

Paradigm has trimmed the budget in all the right places. The cabinets and binding posts (i.e. all the fancy stuff) are functional, with a matte finish. Not a penny has been wasted on unnecessary bling – all the performance is inside the box. And the more time spent listening to the Monitor SE Atom, the more we are all convinced that these are incredibly easy speakers to live with.

Finally, the Atoms are very easy to set up. Thanks to very wide dispersion, they pass the “just throw them anywhere in the room and go” test with ease. And they do it on budget speaker stands. Those wanting every last bit of performance these speakers have to offer, will get a bigger stereo image and a bit more low frequency extension by putting them on more massive stands and spending about 30 minutes fine tuning speaker placement. But you don’t have to go through it to fall in love with these speakers.

In the end – fantastic!

Just as Paradigm set the high-end world on its ear two years ago with their Persona speakers, delivering six figure sound for about $30k a pair, they return to their roots with the Monitor SE Atom. I’ve heard a lot of budget speakers and most of them are rubbish. These little Paradigms are high quality compact speakers. I dare you to find better. This is truly one of the most exciting products I’ve had the pleasure to review. Well done, Paradigm!

The Paradigm Monitor SE Atom


Amphion Helium 510 Speakers

Listening to Eric Clapton float between these quietly elegant, white speakers from Amphion, it’s easy to see why they named this speaker range “helium.”

The slight waveguide machined into the front panel of the cabinet, adds dispersion to the dome tweeter, giving these small Finnish monitors an ease that is rarely included at their $1,130/pair price. It accomplishes another important function: the wider dispersion makes it easy to enjoy the Helium 510s from your listening chair, or even just sitting on the floor, well off the listening axis.

It also makes the 510s easy to set up in a small, medium, or large room too. Our results were equally rewarding in both our smaller room 2, measuring about 13 x 15 feet and the main room, about 15 x 25 feet. As you might expect, thanks to room gain, there is slightly more apparent low frequency energy in the small room, but these speakers do not feel lost in the larger room, while still having ample bass response. All things considered, these are very enjoyable speakers to listen to.

We’ve reviewed quite a few speakers from Denmark as we cruise into our 14thyear of publication, but not so many from Finland. (Though I am a big fan of Penaudio) Because it is darker, longer than most other places, both the Danes and the Finns are predisposed to a lighter color palette indoors, and you can see why white speakers are very popular there. Also, with European rooms usually smaller than on our side of the pond, a white speaker draws less attention to itself, especially when covered in the subtle, smooth matte finish that the Heliums possess. Those needing something more traditional, get their 510s in a wood finish or matte black.

Should you prefer to be a bit trendier, there is a wide range of fun colors for the woofer and tweeter covers. Tempting as the bright lime green is, the monochromatic serenity of our all-white review pair takes the prize.

Simple set up

Amphion calls the waveguide mentioned earlier Uniformly Directed Dispersion. (UDD) It broadens the dispersion characteristic of the tweeters and makes these speakers incredibly easy to place, whether you have stands or even place them on an actual bookshelf. Port plugs are also included, allowing for better bass response when tightly tucked into a bookshelf or very close to the rear wall. In the end, these are incredibly easy speakers to set up, no matter what your room characteristics.

Thanks to ample bass response, they integrated into the larger listening room perfectly, and paired with the Octave V110 tube amplifier and dCS Rossini DAC, most listening was done via digital download. 24-inch stands proved an excellent speaker height and the speakers ended up out in the room, about five feet from the rear wall, five feet apart and the listening chair about seven feet back. Only a few degrees of toe in was necessary to fine tune the stereo image.

The spec sheet lists sensitivity at 86db/1 watt, and while this might discourage some from using lower powered amplifiers, this proved no problem at all with the 510s. As long as you have about 20-40 watts per channel on tap, you will be just fine. Even the 5-watt per channel SET Block amplifier drives the 510s to acceptable listening levels. Incredibly good synergy is achieved with the PS Audio Sprout 2 ($499).  Trying to assemble a great, compact, music system on a tight budget? Grab a Sprout 2, a pair of 510s and some Tellurium Q blue speaker cable (about $100 bucks for an 8 foot pair) and roll. Stream TIDAL from your mobile and have a party.

If speaker stands are not convenient, consider wall mounting your 510s. Amphion makes their own bespoke wall mount for only $130/pair. And this is a fantastic solution for tight spaces, or anyone needing to mount a pair of these as rear channels in a multichannel setup.

Back to the playlist

Auditioning a wide range of music, there’s nothing the 510s can’t play. The only minor shortcoming, and this plagues every small speaker, is that there is a finite limit to just how far you can push them. As the volume swings towards painfully loud, there is a fairly harsh cutoff where these little speakers can only move so much air. Physics has its limitations. The more LF energy your favorite music contains will probably be the limiting factor – the woofer will bump against its stop before the tweeter starts to break up – but again, you will have to push these speakers very hard to reach this point.

Even slightly beyond reasonable and prudent limits, the 510s give solid, defined, tuneful bass response, providing an excellent foundation to your selections. Tracking through a series of Kruder & Dorfmeister and Tosca tracks, the 510s prove that they can dig deep.

The 510s exceptionally clean midrange will keep vocal music lovers glued to their chair. The combination of smoothness and three-dimensional imaging lends an extra dose of realism. Listening to a major portion of Ella Fitzgerald performing the Cole Porter song book is wonderful, with Ms. Fitzgerald’s voice having the right combination of extension, smoothness, and clarity. Precious few budget speakers can deliver this level of tonal perfection.

With the jazz, hip hop and electronica boxes justifiably ticked, going through some heavy rock tracks, classic and contemporary show off the 510s dynamic abilities. Whether spinning AC/DC or Greta Van Fleet, (last year’s “Flower Power” is particularly nice) these speakers can stand up and rock, so you will not be limited by your musical choices.

Small speaker perfection

For just under $1,200 a pair, (without stands) the Amphion Helium 510s do a fantastic job at doing it all. You don’t realize just how great they are until you put an average pair of $5,000 speakers in their place. These Finnish beauties take no prisoners. The advice I always give friends and readers when system building is to fall in love with a pair of speakers and build a system around them.

The Helium 510s are an easy pair of speakers to fall in love with. And we are happy to give them one of our Exceptional Value Awards for 2018. Highly, happily, recommended.

The Amphion Helium 510 speakers

MSRP: $1,130/pair (without stands)



Digital Source                         dCS Rossini Player

Analog Source                         Luxman PD-517 w/Kiseki cart

Amplifiers                               Pass Labs INT-60, PrimaLuna DiaLogue HP, Octave V110

Cable                                       Tellurium Q Black Diamond and Blue speaker cable

Power                                      PS Audio P20

Rega’s New Planar 1 Plus Turntable

Many first time turntable buyers have a bit of difficulty with sorting the hardware aspect, agonizing over cartridge, turntable and phono preamplifier can be slightly challenging to those just joining our party. And we won’t even talk about cables!

Rega turntables have always combined fantastic performance with ease of setup. I can’t think of an easier table to set up than a Rega, especially if you use one of their cartridges. Thanks to their three point alignment, using three screws in the cartridge body, instead of two like other cartridges, no fiddling with an alignment jig is required. These days, you can order your table right from your Rega dealer with the Rega cartridge pre-installed, so all that remains is to set the tracking weight, adjust the anti-skate (bias) and you’re ready to play records.

The P1 Plus takes advantage of Rega’s latest technological advances in plinth design, so even their entry level table shares the same lustre as their more expensive tables. Simple elegance has always been the word at Rega. However, to keep costs to the minimum, the P1 Plus is only available in gloss black and gloss white. Total package is only $595.

Now it’s even easier

Awesome as this is, Rega has made improvements to their award winning Planar 1 table and has built-in the phono stage from their MM Fono, saving you the bother of doing the mix/match thing, as well as sweating which interconnect to add. With the tonearm connected directly to the built-in phonostage, this delicate link in the chain is eliminated. Argue about cables all you want, but nothing is better than no cable at all. Now you can use the supplied cable to go directly into your preamplifier, amp, or powered speakers via the high level input. Once you settle in, you can experiment with a bit better interconnect if you feel the need.

The P1 comes with the Rega Carbon MM (moving magnet) cartridge pre installed, so all that needs to be done is remove the counterweight, which looks like a small steel donut, attach to the tonearm and slide it up to the predetermined point. You don’t even have to set tracking force with the P1. This is the epitome of analog ease. I know I sound a bit cranky, but having the phono preamplifier built in means one less annoying wall wart power supply to keep track of and if you’re me, potentially lose. I love the one power supply approach!

Better sound too

Borrowing a friend’s P1/Fono combination for a quick side by side, reveals the all-inclusive Plus having the edge. Of course, these are $600 table/cart/phono pre packages, so the heavens did not part, but there was enough of a jump in overall smoothness, more low level detail and a lower noise floor that it was easy to tell which was which, even in the context of a modest system. (comprised of a pair of Totem Sky Towers and a PS Audio Sprout 2)

So if you are on the fence thinking external phono or just go full on plug and play, I’d suggest the Plus version. Tracking through a few favorite Ella Fitzgerald tunes, the Plus definitely does an outstanding job with her vocals, and the band accompanying her is spread out between the speakers in an impressive way.

Other benefits

Having the phono preamplifier built in, and a line level output has another big benefit; it no longer has to be on top of the equipment rack. The P1 Plus had no problem driving a 20-foot length of Cardas Crosslink interconnects, which makes it easy to put your table in a more convenient, and perhaps more of a central vantage point.

The P1 Plus performed fantastic, regardless of system context or program material chosen. And for those of you that are super geeky, I did use my Analog Magik software suite to check the P1 Plus’ speed. Right on the money, as it has been with the last say, 14 Rega tables we’ve reviewed. Rega’s belt drive system has been refined over four decades now, yet their engineering staff is always trying to make their tables a better value and better performer than the models they replace. Having been to the Rega factory a few times now, the place is a model of efficiency.

Even if you aren’t using a traditional two channel system, with amp or receiver and speakers, the P1 Plus is a great choice for those with powered speakers, or an all in one box like the B&W Zeppelin or Naim MuSo. We just happen to have both on hand here, so merely switching the line level cable for one with standard RCA plugs on one end and a 3.5mm stereo plug on the other, it was easy to add vinyl playback to these systems. Taking things further, we plugged the P1 plus into a pair of powered Klipsch “The Sixes” as well. Again, a fantastic combo that works well for those living in a small living space, yet still wants to enjoy their record collection. Or perhaps start their first one.

As someone who has owned and reviewed nearly every turntable Rega has made for the last 35 years, I remain astounded at how they keep refining this platform. There is no easier record playing platform than Rega’s Planar 1 Plus, and I doubt a better value either. Definitely Exceptional Value Award material!

The Rega Planar 1 Plus  (US distributor)

MSRP: $599

PONTOS 9 Speakers

For many post-Iron Curtain years, whispers swirled in audio circles of a lively audiophile crowd and a quietly dedicated manufacturing community in Eastern Europe. As capitalism grew so has the community. The Warsaw Audio Show has a strong buzz. I myself am a several year owner of the Hungarian built Vista Audio tube amplifier.

For the past few months I’ve been listening to the Czech-made Acoustique Quality (AQ) Pontos 9 stand-mounted speakers. These front-ported, high-gloss piano black (or white) cabinets offer excellent fit and finish. The Pontos 9 employs a 6” Scan Speak fiberglass driver mated with a Ring Radiator tweeter. Two sets of 5-way binding posts are jumped with 12 gauge OFC wire. The grills are attached via embedded magnets to a braced cabinet of layered MDF.

The Pontos 9 is typical of many European speakers in this price range in that bass response is a bit light on punch. With its front port design I found best placement to be only 15 inches out from the GIK acoustic panels and wall. This is about half of the distance for my rear-ported Totem Rainmakers optimum position in my 9×12’ listening space.

After a solid 90 hours of 24/7 break-in, the Pontos 9 were ready. Rickie Lee Jones smooth masterpiece The Magazine was first on the playlist. Immediately noticed was how easy and natural the upper frequencies sounded. This was no surprise as I’ve always been a fan of the Ring tweeter. The airy quality of Jones’ vocals in “Magazine”, carry throughout the room nicely especially as she raises volume. The stick taps on the bell portion of the cymbal are deliciously rendered. The synthesizer middle notes in “It Must Be Love” are spot-on tonally.

Pearl Jam’s ode “Just Breathe” nails the timbre and shares the slight warble of the vocals. Bass notes are a bit shy however, something that became a constant throughout the review. The same hold true for “Against The Waves” where the bass guitar has a simple but strong repeating chord. It didn’t matter which amplifier I placed in the musical chain, whether it be 150wpc of Peachtree or Simaudio, or the sneaky hard punching Adcom 535 and Vista Audio, the Pontos 9 never provided the forward thump. In addition, the front port beams the bass to listening position but doesn’t rise in elevation. These are a sweet-spot specific pair of speakers.

What the Pontos 9 does do well is offer up endless hours of smooth fatigue-free music. A several hour marathon of paper grading went by without a need for sonic retreat. Sade’s magical vocals are intoxicating from the listening position. “No Ordinary Love” effortlessly fills the room. From the bass thru the highest frequencies all notes resolve very evenly. No one frequency zone takes control or dominates, it’s very Harbeth-like.

This balanced quality shows its full glory with orchestral pieces, the oboe in Murray Perahia’s Beethoven Piano Concerto #1 in C, has a natural big hall concert sound. The Pontos 9 faithfully recreates the slightly distant-sounding piano. Strings and woodwinds play without a hint of shrillness, a big plus for a pair of speakers at $1000 price point.

The Pontos 9’s are truly an amplifier-centric speaker. Listening to the same tracks via tube, vintage and current solid-state, and class D amplification creates very different experiences especially with solo piano work. The resonances go from very tight and sharp with class D, to shady on vintage. Tube gear creates the best balance of depth and dynamics. One wonders if the construction techniques and materials of European homes had something to do with the voicing by the AQ design team. The warmth of filament amplification balances well against hard walls and flooring.

Imaging also benefitted from tubes across all genres instrument placement became more three dimensional, placing the strings in front of the speakers. Though soundstage width doesn’t go outside of the speakers for any specific instrument. Instead, the smoothness of the frequencies that make the Pontos 9’s a comfortable listen. It’s the whole presentation rather than individual strong points that make the listener want to stay and relax with a beverage.

For a thousand dollars a pair, the choices are many. For our readers in Europe stop by a dealer and audition them. Here in North America, when you are cruising an audio show, stop by the Well Rounded Sound Room, and give these a listen. – Mark Marcantonio

Further listening: Jeff Dorgay

The Pontos 9s are somewhat better than their pricetag might suggest. And the components used in their manufacture are first rate. However, like other speakers I’ve used from Sonus faber and GamuT relying on a ring radiator tweeter, they require a bit more setup finesse and are slightly more critical when it comes to fine tuning the setup.

But like these other European speakers (with six figure price tags) the $1,000/pair Pontos 9s are much more approachable. Use the most massive stands you can find, and as Mark mentions, these are voiced to be placed closer to the wall, relying on the room gain to get the proper bass response.

Though these are budget speakers from a price standpoint, they are of considerably higher quality than their pricetag suggests, so they will deliver a more engaging musical performance with better than budget amplification. This may be counterintuitive to the intial buyer, but you will be rewarded with more bass energy and a much smoother high end rendering if you can pair them with a better amplifier.

I was able to get amazing results with the PrimaLuna DiaLogue HP amplifier, with a full compliment of EL-34s. Stepping up to about 60 watts per channel with sufficient current drive will really make the Pontios 9s sing.

All in all a fantastic first effort from Acoustique Quality.

Neat Acoustics Iota Speakers

Based in Teesdale, north England, the Neat team has spent twenty years designing and refining speakers of all sizes. Here we review the smallest of their current lineup – the aptly-named Iota. Those seeking a cost-effective system with a minute footprint may find these speakers a perfect end to their search.

Neat’s mini-miracles measure a scant 7.9 inches (200mm) tall by 5.2 inches (130mm) wide by 6.5 inches (165mm) deep. While pint-sized, the Iotas do pack a surprising heft, weighing in at 6.6 pounds (3 Kg) each thanks to substantial cabinet quality and a large magnet driving the woofer. Power them with an integratedamplifier or receiver in the factory-recommended 25-100 watt range and fill the room with music in no time flat.

Potential owners have several color choices. While we did not have all the hues on hand for side-by-side comparison, the white satinfinish of our review pair offers a subtle beauty which lets the speaker nestle unassumingly alongside modern décor. Neat also offers a similarly-understated satin black. Alternately, those who want speakers with some serious eye-catching pizzazz might opt for the zinc yellow, flame red, or ultramarine blue cabinets.

Placement anywhere

These speakers are designed for placement flexibility. Their diminutive bodies can be placed vertically or horizontally to make the best use of their owner’s available space. Because the Iota speakers in each stereo pair are mirror images of one another, the user can decide if the ribbon tweeters sound best on the inside or outside of the cabinets in a horizontal speaker configuration.

Because the Iotas do not include “feet” of any kind, they may be prone to vibration if placed directly on a hard surface like a shelf or desk. Fear not, though. An easy and cheap remedy results from a quick trip to the hardware store for some self-sticking felt or rubber discs. Placing one pad in each corner of the speaker’s chosen “bottom” side will offer enough vibration isolation to help these speakers sing. For those wishing to place the Iotas on a wall, Neat has supplied them with mounting screws, giving even more placement options. As with other speakers, for the bestsound,the tweeter should end up at ear level when viewed from the listening seat.

As a two-way bass reflex design, the petite woofer gets a little extra oomph from the rear port on each speaker. The owner should plan for a little experimentation with placement to determine how much breathing room between the speaker and a rear wall offers an optimalbass response without leaving sonics on the overly-boomy or thin-sounding extremes.

Beneath the bass port resides the pair of five-way binding posts. A knurled texture on each post nut offers finger-friendly grip when tightening down upon on speaker cable terminations. No tools needed!

Let them sing

Neat Acoustics recommends giving the speakers a minimum of 200 hours break-in time before the speakers achieve their final voicing. After many days of music reproduction,our sample pair demonstrates just how wonderful that oration canbe. These diminutive boxes deliver a very enjoyable, slightly warm sound quality accompanied by an extensive soundstage that defies what one should expect from a micro-monitor. The resulting musical portrayal is akin to that of sitting in the tenth row of a concert hall. While the Iotas to not accentuate the detail of every minute finger movement across a guitar string or key press on a saxophone, they do an extremely competent job of capturing the bigger sonic picture with grace.

One cannot expect a speaker this miniscule to deliver bone-shaking bass when their specifications note a lower limit around 60 Hz. In my listening space, the Iotas indeed experienced roll-off as frequencies approached that depth. For their size though, the speakers do a marvelous job of delivering tight and energetic bass. Listening to Armin Van Buren’s State of Trance albums demonstrate Iota’s ability to capture the excitement of electronic music performances despite the inherent limitations. Those craving more substantial bass response may consider the addition of a subwoofer or two sometime down the road.

The ribbon tweeter chosen by Neat delivers a delightfully smooth and detailed top-end, as demonstrated when listening to jazz and classical music. Sounds residing in the upper music registers never enter into the unpleasant territory of shrillness and sharpness. Instead, flutes, violins, and cymbals’ harmonics portray with delicacy, emotion, and power as the instrumentalist dictates. Saxophones, xylophones – and heck, even telephoneslike those heard on Pink Floyd’s The Wall— render with a high degree of realism.

Among the middle frequencies framing male and female vocals,the Neats also demonstrate their mettle. Sibilance never haunts the Iota’s drivers, leaving the listener’s ears relaxed and at the mercy of beguiling voices of singers like Lyle Lovett, Eva Cassidy, Imelda May, or Jeff Buckley. Track after track, regardless of music genre, the Iotas so a terrific job of presenting a cohesive and dynamic musical performance. The resulting sonic experience exceeds that which anyone has any right to expect from such a tiny enclosure.  Yes, higher priced speakers like Neat’s flagships can offer greater sonic prowess than the Iota. However, a listener should anticipate a price tag higher than $1,000 to gain that accompanying level of nuance.

Summing up

At $995, the Iotas face a lot of competition today. Several new speakers in that price range offer built-in amplifiers, wireless connection options, or even a DAC. While Neat’s teeny speakers lack those pieces of “bonus” functionality, the Iotas certainly live up to their primary design goal of offering major sound in a minor form factor. For those audio fans seeking the smallest possible speaker without major sacrifices in sound quality, Neat gives listeners a stellar option that’s very much worth an audition. The substantial build quality combined with the smooth, fatigue-free sound these speakers offer is likely to make their owner happy for many years to come.

Neat Acoustics Iota Speaker

MSRP: $995

The MartinLogan Motion 4i

I’ve got a great music system everywhere else in the house and office, so what’s left? That’s right the garage.

As a car guy, I spend a fair amount of time in the garage, and now that I’ve added a semi vintage 83 BMW 320i and a 2000 323 touring (for speaker hauling, car parts runs, and of course Mrs. Tone’s trips to the nursery for gardening necessities) to the fleet, I’m back to doing some of my own maintenance again.

And that’s a good thing. Much fun as hifi is, you can only tweak VTA and speaker placement so much before you run out of things to do; or go mad processing it all. We all know a few of those, don’t we? Finally, there’s something wonderful about completing a task. Even something as simple as changing oil or a set of sparkplugs is incredibly fulfilling in a day where we always seem to have one more text message to return.

Great music always makes whatever task you are engaged in more worthwhile. The garage environment is somewhat different, with a different set of challenges. One minute you’re under the hood, (or bonnet, for my British pals) and one minute you’re under the car, so much like a recording studio a speaker with some presence and fairly wide dispersion is a good thing. There’s no sweet spot here, you need engaging sound everywhere. Limited space makes wall mounting a plus. The Motion 4i wins on all counts.

Introducing the MartinLogan Motion 4i

Thanks to their small, flexible size and wall mounting options, the Motion 4i’s are at home anywhere and can be easily positioned to get the sound you need. Because they only go down to about 70hz, positioning is not as much of an issue as a speaker that goes down lower. And their 90db/1 watt efficiency means you don’t need a ton of amplifier power for engaging sound. As with any small speaker, desk duty or placement near the room corners in a small room with help tremendously with room gain.

The folded motion tweeter in all of the Motion speakers comes incredibly close to producing a similar voice to the big MartinLogan ESL speakers, in a small box. The Motion 4i is a marvel of transparency, but you’d expect nothing less from MartinLogan, would you? Having spent decades with MartinLogan’s mighty ESL speakers, I’m constantly amazed at how much of this voice they’ve been able to bring to bear with the Motion speakers.

The diminutive cabinets also make the Motion 4i’s a perfect match for a great subwoofer. As we just happen to have their Dynamo 600X (which is ARC ready, for even better room integration) in for review, this is an easy next step. At $599.95, a full MartinLogan sat/sub system will only set you back about $1,100 – making a mighty combination. It’s all from the same manufacturer, so you know it will all sync up perfectly. And you can get it all at the same dealer – awesome!

At home anywhere

After a few months of listening, it’s hard to decide where I like the Motion 4i’s better. They are equally impressive in our smaller listening room and up on my desktop for nearfield listening. The resolution of the folded motion tweeter feels like you’re listening to headphones, especially when listening to speakers with a lot of stereo effects in the mix. The defined soundfield that the Motion speakers create easily gets things floating around your head in a nearfield environment. Listening to Forq’s latest, Threq (somewhat ethereal jazz/fusion/semi electronica), the 4i’s paint a massive landscape in my large room (15 x 25 foot) and do an exceptional job, even without the sub.

Because of that high sensitivity mentioned earlier, the Motion 4i’s will work fine with a wide range of amplifier choices. We used the Rega Brio, PS Audio Sprout 2, a PrimaLuna ProLogue One, and Dynaco’s new Stereo 70, all with excellent luck. As with MartinLogan ESLs, there is a certain magic that you’ll love with a small tube amplifier, so this is worth investigating if convenient. I ended up doing the bulk of the review listening with the new Dynaco Stereo 70 for my little slice of hifi heaven.

Extended listening also shows off the low distortion and as a result, low fatigue of these speakers. Just as MartinLogan has done with their hybrid ESL speakers, the seamless blend between the Motion tweeter and the woofer feels like you are listening to a full range speaker. There is a level of transparency here that just doesn’t happen with other budget small speakers and that’s impressive. The level of high frequency smoothness and refinement is way beyond anything I’ve heard at $500/pair, or for that matter, 3-4 times that much.

I can’t think of a better recommendation for a pair of speakers at anywhere near this price.

The MartinLogan Motion 4i

MSRP:  $249.95 each


Digital Source                         dCS Rossini

Amplification                          PrimaLuna ProLogue One and DiaLogue HP integrated, Pass Labs INT-60, Esoteric F-07, PS Audio Sprout 2, Dynaco PAS2/Stereo 70 (new and old versions)

Cable                                       Tellurium Q Blue

Power                                      PS Audio P15

Klipsch “The Sixes” Powered Speakers

With 40 years of production under their belt, Klipsch has a long legacy of building high-qualityspeakers. While most fans of the company’s offerings are familiar with Klipsch’s classic passive designs, their aptly-named “Heritage” series ups the ante with built-in amplifiers. Here we review their largest Heritage offering, “The Sixes” powered speakers which offer a musical experience transcending their price point.

Under the Hood

First off, potential owners should know The Sixes are much more than powered monitors: they are moreof a one-stop audio solution. A built-in DAC with 192kHz/24-bit resolutionoffers a multitude of digital connection options including optical (Toslink), coaxial, USB, or Bluetooth. The speakers accept line-level inputs too. A single pair of RCA connectors and a stereo mini-jack give the speakers extra versatility for multiple external sources. The RCA inputs serve two purposes, dictated by the flick of a switch. One position assigns the RCAs as standard line-level inputs. The other accommodates vinyl enthusiasts with a built-in phonostage for a turntable connection. With all these options, a Sixesowner can connect any source of their choosing, and in a few seconds, be ready to dance around the living room to their favorite tunes.

Like many powered speakers designs today, the Klipsch “pair” are not identical. One speaker houses the amplifier, controls, and inputs. The other passive speaker connects to the first via a suppliedcable, then takes its direction from the brains and brawn of its sibling. Once connected, the built-in amp delivers a continuous 100 watts to each speaker, so there’s plenty of juice to share.

Klipsch has pre-defined the passive speaker as the left channel, relegating the smarter twin in the right position. For listeners with power outlets on the left side of the room, this scenario may create a challenge. In that case, a lengthypower cord or some connectivity-creativity – like swapping inputs for the leftand right channels — is necessary.

The bottom-front edge of the right speaker has a power on/off toggle switch, a volume knob, and an LED indicatornoting the input selection. A handy remote allows a listener to make changes from the comfort of their listening chair.

More than skin deep

While The Sixesfeature a traditional boxy shape, the retro-styling offers a nice aesthetic twist. Our test pair, featuring the Walnut veneer cabinets with complementing copper-color trim, make these speakers stand out visually. The company also offers an Ebony version for those seeking an alternate finish option.

Physical dimensions are substantial at 8.625” (22cm) wide, 16.75” (42.55cm) tall, and 11” (27.9cm) deep. The left, passive speaker,weighs in at 16.00 lbs (7.26kg). Its right-side twin with the extra internals tips the scale at 17.74 lbs (8.05kg).

Although the speakers offer different functionality within, the drivers are identical. Klipsch chose one-inch (25.4mm) titanium tweeters on Tractrix horns, 6.5-inch (165.1mm)woofers, and a rear port for added bass reinforcement. According to the company, the speakers offer a flat frequency response down to 40Hz, with expected roll-off below that. Those desiring deeper bass will appreciate The Sixes’ subwoofer output.

As monitor designs, The Sixesrequire stands to elevate the tweeter to ear level. Unlike many bookshelf speakers which have a flat base, the Klipsches feature an extended lower edge surrounding the bottom. As a result, once the Klipsches take their seat atop the stands, the stand’s upper surface disappears, and the stand-speaker combination appears integrated. To prevent the speakers from scooting around on the stands if bumped, a couple ofdots of Blu-Tack putty offer just enough stickiness to keep everything aligned.

Prepare for delight

Once allowed to sing, The Sixesunleash marvelous sonics. As one should expect from a company like Klipsch with a long history of wonderful speaker designs, the woofing and tweeting integrate seamlessly. The carefully-chosen internal amp, preamp, and DAC within complement the drivers and cabinets perfectly for optimal sound.

Sonically, The Sixesreside slightly to the warm side of neutral, making long listening sessions a pleasure. Rest assured, though, that the touch of euphony does not sacrifice the details which enhance the listening experience during favorite tracks. Klipsch’s deliberate speaker voicing offers a welcome, and easy-to-embrace balance.

On well-recordedalbums like Elliott Smith’s Roman Candle,the vocal nuances and delicate guitar strums reveal themselves with naturalness. On older, “sonically-challenged” recordings, the Klipsches do a nice job of taking out the sharp, strident edges, leaving a much more palatable overall musical experience. Once optimally placed, the speakers offer a wide and deep soundstage that exceeds their physical presence. Bass proves taught and authoritative. High frequencies like those revealed among the complex sound from cymbal rides render with a high degree of delicacy alongside the anticipated ring and decay.

At their price point, The Sixesoffer a lot to love and little to criticize. Yes, there are other speakers out there which enable greater refinement and resolution. However, those characteristics normallycome at a significantly higher cost. Those seeking the ultimate speakers should not expect perfection for under $1,000.  That said, The Sixes– at a mere $799 — defy their entry-level price tag.


For $799, The Sixes speakers offer an optimized phonostage, linestage, DAC, and amplifier. Rarely in audio does one get so much for so little. Heck, many audiophiles out there spend more than that on interconnects! Kudos to Klipsch for delivering a wonderful product that resides within the budget of most audio fans who prioritize music in their lives.

For purchases made on the Klipsch website, shipping is includedin the price tag. Also, a new owner has a 30-day money back guarantee in the unlikely eventthe speakers are not right for them. The only thing they have to lose is the cost of return shipping.

If you seek a holistic audio system within a budget around $1,000, these Klipsches offer a stellar foundationand leave you $200 toward the source of your choosing. For their great sound and integrated functionality The Sixesoffer a prospective owner, they handily earn a TONEAudio’s 2018 Exceptional Value Award.

Klipsch “The Sixes” Powered Speakers

MSRP: $799


Digital Sources: Mac Mini, Roon Music Service, Simaudio MOON 780D DAC, Oppo BDP-103, iPhone 7

Cables: Jena Labs

Power: Torus AVR 15 Plus, RSA Mongoose, and Cardas Clear power cords

Accessories: ASC tube traps, AudioQuest Jitterbug, Atomic Audio Labs Mac Mini stand

The Devialet Phantom Gold

Devialet Is a French audio company that began making waves very soon after its introduction in 2007. Taking a fresh approach utilizing state of the art design and implementation of digital technology, there wasn’t anything like them at the time, or now for that matter.

Packaging a cutting edge DAC, phonostage, preamplifier and power amplifier all in a gleaming chrome chassis no bigger than a stack of about 8 albums is pure genius. The audio press greeted these innovative designs with open arms and flowing adjectives. And, TONEAudio was the first publication in North America to get their hands on one.

In 2014, Devialet introduced the Phantom, a stand-alone streaming powered speaker, with a claimed frequency response of 14 Hz to 27 kHz and the ability to produce a 108 dB SPL at 1 meter. These lofty promises raised eyebrows, but in person, the Phantoms have proven time and again they can achieve discoteque levels without strain.

They also conjured a unique distribution network that blew the shackles off traditional high end audio retail chains of distribution. I first encountered the Phantom at the Museum of Modern Art store in my SOHO NYC neighborhood. Quite frankly, I didn’t know what to make of it. It certainly did not look like anything I’d seen before, and the pulsating, quivering bass drivers gave the Phantom a bio-organic life as if something out of the classic sci-fi film 2001: A Space Odyssey. Of course no judgement of the sound could be made in that environment,  but it certainly was intriguing. The top of the line $2,990 4500-watt Phantom Gold, the subject of this review became available in 2117.

Mr. Holiday Cheer

In the fall of 2117 Devialet opened a SOHO flagship store. After a visit and a quick demo, I was still unconvinced. Not because it sounded bad, but it was saddled with such grandiose marketing hype, I still couldn’t quite reconcile it with what I was hearing in the commercial, unfamiliar space. But it was Christmas time and my wife had been hinting at a music solution that would eliminate the need for her to engage my reference system, requiring pushing multiple buttons and switches to get music to play. Not to mention avoiding the perils of dropping a stylus on a record, something she has no interest in at all.

I put a big red bow on the Phantom Gold and under the tree it went. Along with the tripod stand, the Phantom Gold found its place near the kitchen in our loft. Set up was a breeze and the music began to flow within minutes. I had no intention of a formal review at the time so there was no urgency to form a hardened opinion. That would work in the Phantom Golds favor as it allowed a protracted audition in a variety of circumstances and types music played.

Leavin on a Jet Plane

This past July we were invited to spend a week in Sonoma Valley California, and based on our last trip to the same home, we thought it would be cool to purchase the dedicated hard felt case for the Phantom and bring it along. At 25lbs, it’s not tossable, but it easily fit in the overhead bin. Before we knew it, we were unzipping the very effective case in the great room of the magnificent home, 4 miles up a mountain road overlooking all of Sonoma’s glory.

The first night in Sonoma was spent listening to the 6 speaker Sonos system that came with the home. It was OK, nobody complained. The next afternoon we fired up the Phantom Gold and that was the end of the Sonos, no contest. The three other couples staying at the home with us were floored at the sound. The music through the Phantom Gold debuted in the great room, and as the party moved to the massive patio, it was brought outside and pointed towards the seeming endless vista of the Sonoma Valley. With the long wall of the house becoming a huge baffle reinforcing the sound, the power and projection of the music seemed infinite. It struck us as if the sound could be heard miles away.

Power, bass extension, clarity and a lack of overall compression had the entire crew, now fully primed, if you know what I mean; bumping grinding and otherwise moving and grooving. I now knew I had to take this novel design more seriously and acquire a second Phantom in short order, subjecting it to the audiophile scrutiny I’d afford any high end piece of gear.

The Phantom Gold was a huge element in all having a wonderful time over the course of 7 days and nights. We all had our shot at choosing music we loved. From Zeppelin to the Beach Boys, to Prince, we all left with big smiles, and great memories.

Returning to Base

Upon our return, Alex from the SOHO Devialet store, arrived with a second Phantom Gold and dedicated floor stands. Syncing the pair for stereo operation was a cinch, and the stands took mere minutes to assemble. My wife and I were tunemeisters on a totally different level now, streaming our favorite selections from Spotify and TIDAL!

Let’s recap. A Single Phantom Gold carried across the country was a huge success, well worth the effort and way beyond what we all had expected, completely embarrassing what had to be an even more expensive Sonos system. As a result, new customers for the Phantom Gold were born.

But now, the $7K stereo pair finds itself in the lions den of a fairly jaded audiophile reviewer. Situated along the opposite wall of my main system, the minimal, wireless (save the power chords) duo faced down a $250K complex, state of the art system – a major juxtaposition. The review process was at first casual, a few tunes with the Phantoms punctuated by stretches playing along with my PRS DGT guitar. The more I listened the more my respect for the pair of  Phantom Gold’s grew.

Judged at or near its price point, I cannot imagine a series of components that can match the frequency extension, dynamic ease, and see-through quantity provided by a pair of Phantom Golds. Don’t forget, they can easily be separated and used as stand alone music players in any room in the house and beyond. Up to 7 Phantom Golds can be strung together to fill every room in a mansion. No messy wires, fully tablet controllable, and they seem to be indestructible at even crazy lunatic SPL’s. Whatever minor shortcomings they might present compared to much pricier and far more complicated systems are quickly forgotten in favor of the unique strengths they offer.

14 Hz as advertised?

As we don’t do measurements, that’s tough to substantiate. I did hear some incredibly deep bass notes with excellent clarity that did nothing to pollute the mid band. The Phantom Golds  don’t punch me in the gut quite like my main reference system, but at the same time, they do not sound slow, lagging or confused. I’ve failed to mention my room is enormous measuring 33’ X60’ x 14’. That is a whole lot of air to move and the Phantom Gold does a very good job at filling and pressurizing the space with effortless sound. They simply sound much bigger than their small size would lead you to believe.

The overall sonic signature is not unlike my Sonus faber Pryma headphones that I love. Warmth through the mid bass and lower mid-band, and inviting smoothness through the upper midrange and treble. They communicate the music in a very enjoyable and easily digestible form. The Prymas are to my Sonoma Acoustics electrostatic Model1 headphone system as the Phantom Gold’s are to my reference system. Very different approaches aimed at very different customers that none the less delivering the musical goods in a most enjoyable fashion.

Final Observations

Imaging is fantastic with the Phantom Golds, whether in the sweet spot or milling around the room, feeling much more omnidirectional than most traditional speakers. Complicated, dense mixes come through with clarity and ease, never sounding congested or any segment of the music overwhelming the presentation. Center images are solid and focused. Depth is very well preserved and recorded space is nicely portrayed. And again, these speakers play loud with no strain. The technology employed includes a protection circuit that prevents damage – an excellent thing for the head bangers in the audience. All kidding aside, this can be a life saver when calling upon the Phantoms to do theater duty.

Watching action packed faire, such as Star Trek-Generations, The Matrix, 5thElement, and someGame of Thrones binging, the pair does an excellent job delivering the necessary dynamic range and sonic nuance to bring your video to life. Those moving up from a sound bar, or even sound bar and subwoofer will be floored by the additional musicality the Phantoms bring.

With the Phantom Gold, Devialet has created a flexible, expandable nearly indestructible, musical product housed in a form that will spark more conversation than anything you are likely to have in your home. I do prefer the overall look on the tripod rather than the floor stands, but that is placement, use, and space dependent. If you value a product that delivers musical and   engaging sound in a easy to use and portable form, and can do without the last bit of audiophile nuance, the Devialet Phantom Gold is a stunning achievement visually and sonically.

** Ed. Note: Location photos courtesy of Mr. Petan

A wise purchase indeed.

Please click here to view the Phantom Gold at the Devialet website